DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General, as you know, will be departing later today to attend the Asian-African summit in Jakarta, which is taking place later this week.
We also wanted to inform correspondents here, and ask them to alert their colleagues covering the summit, that we have scheduled a background briefing on the Secretary-General’s address to the summit. That briefing will take place in Jakarta on Thursday. And if you want more information, my colleague Marie Okabe has it upstairs.
Turning to the Security Council, the Council held consultations this morning on the latest report from the Secretary-General to the Council on the repatriation from Iraq of all Kuwaitis and third-country nationals or their remains. Yuli Vorontsov, the Secretary-General’s High-Level Coordinator, briefed Council members on the report.
In a press statement following consultations, Council members welcomed the actions of the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publish in the media the names and photographs of missing persons whose remains had not yet been found, with a request that any relevant information be reported to the Iraqi authorities. They expressed confidence that the new Iraqi Government will continue this constructive engagement and call upon all parties concerned to continue to work towards a satisfactory solution to this issue.
Turning to Lebanon, speaking to the press this morning, the Secretary-General said his report on resolution 1559 is not yet ready and was now expected to go the Security Council on the 26 of this month. And the Secretary-General’s comments are available upstairs.
**Sudan - Refugees
Turning to the Sudan, the Acting High Commissioner for Refugees, Wendy Chamberlin, has started a five-day visit to Sudan and Chad by calling on the Sudanese Government to live up to its responsibilities to protect its own citizens and to help Sudanese displaced by civil war to return to their homes in the south of the country.
After visiting two sites where people displaced by the 21-year civil war, at a camp on the outskirts of the capital, Ms. Chamberlin said UNHCR and the international community will hold the Sudanese Government responsible for protecting its own people and helping them go back to their original homes, if that’s what they want. She stressed that the same principles apply to people displaced within their own country, as to the return of refugees -- that their movements must be voluntary and carried out in safety and dignity.
An estimated 6.1 million people who fled the civil war in the south are now displaced within the country. This is in addition to the 500,000 refugees in other countries -- primarily Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- whom the UN agency plans to help return home over the next few years.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan reports that the United Nations is participating as an observer at the so-called South-South dialogue in Nairobi, which is expected to deal mainly with southern Sudan’s implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Over 200 delegates are expected to attend the dialogue, including the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) leadership, pro-Government militias, various armed groups and civil society representatives to discuss peace-building, inclusiveness, reconciliation, and good governance.
**DRC - Arms Sanction Resolution
On the DRC, the Security Council yesterday adopted unanimously a resolution on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which extends an arms and military financing embargo to any recipient in the country and freezes the assets of sanctions violators.
The resolution makes an exception for military equipment destined for police and soldiers who make up the country's national army, and those arms used for technical training and for the UN Mission in that country. The resolution also expresses serious concern over the presence of armed groups and militias in the country's north-east, particularly in the north and south Kivu provinces and the Ituri district. Copies of the resolution are available from the documents counter and on the Council’s website.
**OCHA – Indonesia and Comoros
Turning to Indonesia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, because of the nearly 300 aftershocks that followed the Sumatra quake of 28 March, warehouse space for relief goods is decreasing by the day. In response, the World Food Programme will be constructing temporary sites on the hard-hit island of Simeulue. OCHA also says that, because the quakes have caused six nearby islands to rise by 2 metres, wells have dried up, and drinking water is urgently needed there.
Meanwhile, in the ComorosIslands, off the south-eastern coast of Africa, UN agencies are providing vehicles and personnel to help that country’s Government cope with an increasingly active volcano. And we have more information from UNICEF upstairs.
WFP also says that it has started distributing emergency rice rations to more than 150,000 drought-stricken Cambodians, many of whom have not seen rain since November.
Meanwhile, the head of WFP, James Morris, is on a week-long visit to Central America, where he has called for private sector support to eradicate child hunger in the region, as the best way to overcome poverty there. And we have a press release on both items.
A couple of more items, the UN Environment Programme has decided to honour seven “Champions of the Earth” for their exemplary achievements with respect to the environment. Among the honourees are the King and people of Bhutan, and President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa. The awards ceremony will be held at 6:30 this evening in the Delegates’ Dining Room. And we have more information upstairs from UNEP.
**Women’s Round Table
A couple of events here, a round table on mobilizing women leaders for the Millennium Development Goals will be held this afternoon, at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 2. Nane Annan will open the dialogue, and participants will include: Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT); Kerstin Leitner, the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization; and Rima Salah, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.
The round table will focus on issues related to water, sanitation and hygiene.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow, press conferences, Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of UNEP, as well as Olav Kjorven, the Director of the UN Environment Programme’s Energy and Environment Group, as well as Achim Steiner, the Director General of the World Conservation Union, will be here to announce the five winners of the SEED Awards, which stands for Supporting Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development.
And at 11:30, the Disarmament and Decolonization Affairs Branch of the Department of General Assembly Affairs will be sponsoring a press conference in this room on the Alan Cranston Peace Awards. Participants at the press conference will include this year’s award recipient Ted Turner; former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev; former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell; UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall; and the President of the Global Security Institute, Jonathan Granoff.
**Guest at Noon Tomorrow
And lastly, the guest at tomorrow’s briefing will be Anna Tibaijuka.
And I just wanted to highlight, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters this morning and he was asked about his relationship to Maurice Strong. He said Maurice Strong had been involved with the United Nations for a long time. But, he said he had not been aware of Mr. Strong’s relationship with Mr. Park. And we put out the transcript of that upstairs.
And that is it from me.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two things. Is the Secretary-General going to ask Maurice Strong to step aside while this matter is being investigated? And also, is there any procedure for determining potential conflict of interest for special envoys like Maurice Strong? I mean, do they have to provide their sort of financial disclosure to the Secretary-General before they undertake a mission?
Associate Spokesman: I will need to get an answer for you on the question of financial disclosure. Obviously, the issue related to Mr. Strong and Mr. Park is under investigation by, or being looked at rather, by the Volcker Committee. So we can’t comment on the details of those investigations. [Under UN rules, financial disclosure forms are required of regular staff members at the level of Assistant Secretary-General and above, except for those paid “when actually employed”, in which case it is at the discretion of the Secretary-General.]
Question: How do you know that the Volcker Committee is looking into the relationship between Mr. Park and Mr. Strong? Are you being told that by the Volcker Committee?
Associate Spokesman: The Volcker Committee is looking into all issues relating to “oil-for-food”.
Question: Do you specifically know that?
Associate Spokesman: I do know that for a fact.
Question: So you can tell us that Volcker... Is he initiating the investigation or has he been looking?
Associate Spokesman: I can say that he is looking into that. For any further details, I’d ask you to go to Mr. Volcker’s, as to when he started looking into that.
Question: You didn’t answer the question about the status of Maurice Strong while he is the subject of this investigation, while this issue is being looked at. Is he going to step aside?
Associate Spokesman: That’s an issue that’s being looked at right now.
Question: It’s being considered?
Associate Spokesman: It’s being looked at right now.
Question: Oil-for-food aside, does the UN think it appropriate that the UN envoy to Korea has a business relationship with a Korean operative? This has nothing to do with Iraq. The question is, is it appropriate? Should a well-known South Korean (inaudible) lobbyist is investing in the companies of the UN envoy to Korea? Is that appropriate?
Associate Spokesman: That very question, in answer to Colum’s question, is an issue that we are looking at.
Question: You’re looking into it separately from the Volcker Committee?
Associate Spokesman: It’s not an investigation; it’s a question of appropriateness.
Question: What is the mechanism by which this is being examined? Are there any rules, or is this another ad hoc decision taken in a black box?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know what ad hoc decision in a black box means. It’s a decision by the UN administration to see whether or not that is appropriate. And that’s all I can tell you.
Question: Who decides, according to what procedure?
Associate Spokesman: These people all serve the Secretary-General. So that’s as far as I can go...
Question: But who decides, according to what procedure?
Associate Spokesman: The decision will be announced. I will try to find out what procedure is being followed.
Question: To follow up on that point. In the Koreagate scandal, in the 1970s in the United States, an investigation found that Mr. Park was operating in cahoots with South Korean intelligence. Again, is it appropriate for the UN envoy on South Korea to have a business relationship with somebody who has been previously found, in a US investigation, to have been operating in conjunction with South Korean intelligence?
Associate Spokesman: That’s exactly my answer to Colum’s question… that is something that is being examined.
Question: How long do you think it will to take for this decision on Mr. Strong’s future as the Korean envoy to be decided?
Associate Spokesman: Hopefully, sooner rather than later. Ghida?
Question: I was going to ask you about the Larsen report. How was it decided that this report should be delayed? Did the Secretary-General come to this decision on his own? Did he let other Council members know of his decision?
Associate Spokesman: It was his decision and, yes, he did advise members of the Council. I’m told the report will go to the Council no later than the 26th.
Question: But what is the justification, because we hear the report is ready.
Associate Spokesman: The report is ready when it goes to the Council. So it obviously is not ready. There’s a number of technical issues that had to be looked at. You also have a government that’s currently being formed in Lebanon. So the Secretary-General decided to hold it off till the 26th.
Question: Can you also confirm that the Secretary-General spoke to Bashar Al-Assad or any high ranking Syrian official before this decision was made yesterday?
Associate Spokesman: Yes, well there have been contacts... the Secretary-General did have contacts with the Syrian authorities.
Question: With Bashar Al-Assad?
Associate Spokesman: Yes.
Question: A follow-up on 1559. The Syrians are reiterating their position that they would complete the withdrawal by the 26th. The SG is saying he will issue his report on the 26th, and he is awaiting developments in Lebanon and Syria, including the withdrawal. Can you just confirm or lay to rest allegations that his decision to put off issuing the report was because members of the Council -- the French, the Americans and possibly others -- have leaned on him to delay the report?
Associate Spokesman: No. The report, I was told, was being delayed for technical reasons and also because of the change in the Lebanese Government. And it will be out by the 26th, I’m told. Yes, Richard?
Question: You’re saying they’re looking into the appropriateness on Strong. But yesterday, and other days, we were led to believe, well, it’s up to Volcker, when asked is the UN looking into unidentified officials 1 and 2. Is the UN now going to get more aggressive since the Strong case presents possible links that would not be good for the UN on many levels? Is the UN now going to be searching and asking Volcker who are unidentified officials 1 and 2, are they still in the administration or is the Secretary-General waiting for the next news egg to drop on the sidewalk?
Associate Spokesman: I think we are being aggressive in the sense that the Secretary-General went forward and named the Volcker panel, which has a $40 million budget and 60 investigators. They’re looking into all issues having to deal with oil-for-food. I was answering Colum’s and Mark’s question about the appropriateness of special envoys having business dealings in the countries they cover.
Question: But we don’t know who 1 and 2 are. Why wait months for the Volcker report?
Associate Spokesman: We don’t know what Mr. Volcker’s calendar will be. I don’t know if it will be months.
Question: (inaudible) in the indictments from Kelly..
Associate Spokesman: The indictments don’t name 1 and 2.
Question: Why not do your own in-house investigation?
Associate Spokesman: The Volcker investigation is our, in a sort of way, in-house investigation.
Question: I thought it was independent?
Associate Spokesman: It is independent, but in a sense it is an investigation that the Secretary-General has called for realizing, probably, we did not have our own means to investigate this whole issue fully.
Question: How can it be independent if he himself appointed the panel that is investigating him?
Associate Spokesman: I think Mr. Volcker’s reputation is without reproach. I think the reports that you’ve seen already are hard-hitting. We stand by the choice of Mr. Volcker.
Question: It’s not about Mr. Volcker’s reputation, it’s about the process, isn’t it?
Associate Spokesman: You know, this is an investigation that was...
Question: (inaudible) probably himself just used the language you just used to describe Mr. Volcker, when he named Mr. Strong his special envoy or when he named him in charge of UN reform. How can people believe in this Organization when these choices are being made?
Associate Spokesman: We stand by, again, the choice of Mr. Volcker. I think the team he has put together is of top quality. If you look at the reports themselves, they spare no one. They’re not softball reports. Yes, Louis?
Question: You mentioned that you knew for a fact that Mr. Volcker is looking into this Strong business. How do you know that? If the Volcker Commission is an independent body, do they share with you what they’re looking into?
Associate Spokesman: No, we were told by Mr. Strong.
Question: Has Mr. Strong been asked to talk with Mr. Volcker?
Associate Spokesman: I think that you would have to... you would have to talk to him.
Question: Has the Secretary-General spoken to Mr. Strong in the last week?
Associate Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of. [He later said that the Secretary-General had spoken to Mr. Strong by telephone on Sunday.]
Question: Will the same set of rules apply to him as to Mr. Sevan and other (inaudible), like being offered fees for counsel and so on?
Associate Spokesman: There’s been no adverse findings against Mr. Strong. I think you’re jumping the gun on your question.
Question: It’s normal practice, I believe, for Under-Secretaries-General to report their financial dealings. In fact, I think all Under-Secretaries-General are required to do that when they take the post. Mr. Strong, being Under-Secretary-General, and I believe when he was the special adviser for reform he was an Under-Secretary-General. Did he declare his financial dealings at that point? And specifically, did he declare the investment by Mr. Park in one of his companies at that point?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know. We’ll have to check on that. Yes, Edie?
Question: A few things. Did the Secretary-General know about Mr. Park’s relationship with his predecessor, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and the fact that he had been in the Secretary-General’s office?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know what the Secretary-General knew about the relationship between his predecessor and Mr. Park.
Question: And just two things on Strong. Am I right in recalling that he was one of, was he one of the $1-a-year?
Associate Spokesman: He is currently employed under the paid “when actually employed” contract.
Question: On another subject, is Thabo Mbeki going to be here today collecting this award?
Associate Spokesman: No, I don’t think he is. [He was not.]
Question: Can I follow up? Mr. Strong enjoyed immunity then from his UN work. From a US point of view, does Mr. Strong enjoy immunity from questioning about his extra-UN work, such as his business dealings, including investment by Mr. Park, in one of his associated companies?
Associate Spokesman: That’s a pretty detailed legal question, which I will get you an answer for. [If he is paid “when actually employed”, he does not enjoy full diplomatic immunity, but only functional immunity.]
Question: I mean there’s a long list that keeps getting longer. There aren’t many people who have worked close to the Secretary-General on the 38th floor, in some way, who have not been touched by some... What is the UN reaction to... Who’s left up there, I mean it’s beyond concern, isn’t there some sense of loss of managerial control or trust, or people going behind the Secretary-General’s back and doing whatever they want to do and not telling him, where is the thinking, whether it’s shredding or even aware, if it’s Mr. Strong, that they have a business deal going with someone who, yes, was involved in a previous corruption scandal.
Associate Spokesman: There’s a full team of people working hard on the 38th floor, pushing the reform agenda and his proposals.
Question: What damage does that do to that fight to get reform when the people pushing it, as other UN officials have said, have a taint to them, even more as each name comes forward every day?
Associate Spokesman: There’s obviously a concern to try to get not only to the bottom of this and to clear up all the questions having to do with oil-for-food. That was reason #1 for the naming of the Volcker panel. It is a long process, longer than any of us had expected or wanted it to be. But it is a process that is ongoing and we have to wait till the end of that process.
Question: What does the Secretary-General feel the impact is on his own reform proposals that his previous Under-Secretary-General for reform has now admitted having business relationship with an outside figure who was involved in a previous corruption scandal and is now being charged in America?
Associate Spokesman: First of all, he hasn’t been charged with anything. Mr. Strong has not been charged with anything.
Question: No, no. It’s Park, I am sorry.
Associate Spokesman: Mr. Strong’s employment on reform is really not relevant to the latest proposals put forward by the Secretary-General and elaborated on by the panel.
Question: Stéphane, can you tell us the latest about the Carina Pirelli case? What stage is it at?
Associate Spokesman: Yes, in fact, hold on, I had something on that. On Carina, the information we had been given is that on 31 March, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast received comments in writing from the Director of the Electoral Division, Carina Pirelli, regarding the management review of her Division.
On 6 April, having considered Ms. Pirelli’s response, Mr. Prendergast took the following action. He asked that the Director, Ms. Pirelli, undertake clearly specified actions to address management problems raised in the review. He initiated the preliminary investigation required by staff regulation into possible misuse of trust fund monies. And he referred all other allegations to the Office of Human Resources Management so they can be investigated.
And he’s told all that, obviously, to Ms. Pirelli.
As for Mr. Sevan, the extension that he was granted for his response expires at the end of this month. On Mr. Nair, there are, obviously, as you know, two processes ongoing. One is a result of the adverse findings against him in the last Volcker report. The charge letter was sent to Mr. Nair; he responded to that letter on Friday, and we’re now considering his response.
On the separate issue of the allegations brought forward by the Staff Union, these are being reviewed by a third party, and we expect to receive that review shortly, at which point we will decide on further action.
Question: His contract expires on 23 April, which is this weekend. This process is going to continue beyond the expiration of his contract?
Associate Spokesman: This process will continue beyond the expiration of this contract.
Question: Who was the third party?
Associate Spokesman: The third party is... we’re not revealing that name, but obviously once the proceedings are over that process will be made public.
Question: Is Ms. Pirelli still in charge of the election unit?
Associate Spokesman: Yes.
Question: Is she promoting free, fair and transparent elections around the world for the United Nations?
Associate Spokesman: She’s working as the head of the electoral unit, yes.
Question: Has any electoral team been sent to Lebanon yet? Can the United Nations play any role in Lebanon, in the elections, with its leadership in this current crisis?
Associate Spokesman: As far I’m aware, no team has been sent. Obviously, those requests would have to come from Lebanon itself and we would then study the requests.
Question: Can you confirm that Mr. Park visited Mr. Strong in the Building here, and whether he visited Mr. Boutros-Ghali at any point?
Associate Spokesman: On the appointments of Boutros-Ghali, the public appointments, they were read out at that time, at the start of every noon briefing and all those briefings are available in the library. So you can go and check if he was on the appointments.
Question: I asked specifically yesterday if you could check whether Mr. Park had come in to visit Mr. Strong in the Building.
Associate Spokesman: No, we don’t have an answer on that.
Question: I had one other question outstanding from yesterday, which was about the list of the travelling party during the 1993 Geneva meeting that Boutros-Ghali had with Tariq Aziz. The travelling party -- I asked for the names of that. Do you have those names?
Associate Spokesman: My understanding is that all information that’s in the public domain we will share. All the other information is being reviewed by Volker.
Question: You mean if it’s not in the public domain you wouldn’t share it?
Associate Spokesman: Well, the dates of the trips and who we saw on the trips, I can help you with. Those are all available on line or in the library.
Question: But the travelling party is not public... you’re saying you wouldn’t release the...
Associate Spokesman: Exactly.
Question: Why is that?
Associate Spokesman: Because anything that is being looked at under
Mr. Volker, we are not at liberty to share.
Question: Are you going to be making public the defence presented by Stephanides?
Associate Spokesman: At this point, no. Once the process is resolved and terminated, then obviously more information will be released. But right now, we will not be making that information public.
Question: Since the charges were made public, shouldn’t the United Nations also...(Interrupted)?
Associate Spokesman: Well, it would be up to him to decide whether he wanted to make his response public.
Question: On another issue, there were media reports this morning that matters had deteriorated in Sudan following, and possibly, as a result of, the creation of the Security Council endorsement for the International Criminal Court to punish the guilty. Is that an analysis that the United Nations shares, that there has been following that decision a deterioration in the situation on the ground.
Associate Spokesman: I would have to get some guidance for you on that.
Question: Is Mr. Strong in Santo Domingo? Would he be available to come into our room, since he seems to be more willing that some of the other names to provide his side of the story.
Associate Spokesman: I can provide you with a number for his office. I don’t know where he physically is right now.
Question: Could you formally request that he come to 226 to talk to us?
Associate Spokesman: We can put in that request to him. Whether or not he comes is a different issue.
Question: On a lighter note, does the United Nations have any reaction to a new Pope being selected?
Associate Spokesman: I just saw the smoke.
Question: I was wondering if Mr. Riza was seen near there burning documents or...(Interrupted)?
Associate Spokesman: On that note, thank you very much.
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